Scenes from the Films of Konkowsky



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Konkowsky knew you would, knew you couldn’t help but, wanted you to,
counted on it. He knew that an image of a thing is not the thing itself — not an
object made up of specific elements with numbered places on the periodic table, an
object with a specific set of properties, a specific mass and volume — no, an image of a thing is not the thing itself but the distillation of a thing, a single variation of a
thing of which an infinity of variations are possible.

A flock of pigeons flying through a city on a sunny day remains a flock of
pigeons, and each pigeon remains a pigeon, wherever the flock flies. Yet the shadow of the flock — the image of the flock — changes shape, texture, color, even speed and direction when it flies over a sidewalk and a street and takes on the colors and corrugations of concrete and asphalt, when it flies past an apartment building and leaps up onto a vertical screen of red brick, when it flies over trees and is atomized onto a thousand translucent green leaves.

Konkowsky’s idea was to hand over images — “empty images,” he called them — and let us invest them with meaning, charge them with emotion, link them together, not only reading their story but writing it for ourselves. Konkowsky gave up his empty images as trustingly, as guilelessly, as willessly as a child gives up his empty hand to his father at a street corner.

An “empty” image:

In a famous museum, a young woman approaches a painting by Rembrandt. Staring intently, she comes very near the portrait, produces a small metal case, and applies her lipstick.

It is easy to assume that she is using the glass over the painting as a mirror,
that she does not even see the face behind it, seeing instead her own face in its

But perhaps it is not this way at all. Perhaps she wishes to color the lips of the
man in the painting, and since she cannot apply lipstick directly to the canvas —
there are laws, there are guards — she positions herself where the reflection of her
own lips matches the man’s lips. Perhaps she paints her lips only to paint his lips.
His lips are quite different from hers, however, and to paint them precisely, she
must miss the outlines of her own. It may be that this woman, this woman whom we suppose so selfish that she can look into a painting and see only herself, is in fact so selfless that she looks into her own reflection and sees only the portrait behind it; so selfless that to bring color into his faded lips she mis-paints her own, slips the boundaries; so selfless that she makes herself over into a madwoman or a clown only so that, whenever she will look into a mirror, she will see his lips, expertly and exactly delineated, and not her own. Perhaps she is in love.

And if in love, in love not with a man her own age or even old enough to be
her father, but with a man three hundred and fifty years older than she is. There are other obstacles in the way of their relationship. She speaks Russian; he speaks Middle Dutch. She can, whenever she chooses, stroll along Nevsky Prospekt or the bank of the
Fontanka River; he is bounded on all sides by a wooden frame. She is talkative and energetic; he never changes his expression. She is three-dimensional; he is twodimensional. She has a youthful body full of hormones and hungers and electricity; he has only a head.

And yet she comes here every day — yes, she does it every day — to apply her lipstick to his lips, to commit not an act of vanity but an act of restoration, to wear his mouth on hers as if in a kiss.



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